Ernest Alvia ("Smokey") Smith, VC, CM, OBC, CD (3 May 1914 – 3 August 2005) was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the last living Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross.
Born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Smith came of age during the Great Depression and along with many others struggled to find steady employment. He was 25 when he joined the Canadian Army on 5 March 1940, becoming part of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. In 1943, he first entered into combat. On 10 July 1943, he was part of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division landing in Sicily, remaining active throughout the Sicily and Italian campaign in 1943 and 1944.
On the night of 21/22 October 1944 at the River Savio, in Northern Italy, Private Smith was in the spearhead of the attack which established a bridgehead over the river. With a PIAT anti-tank launcher he put an enemy tank out of action at a range of 30 feet (10 metres), and while protecting a wounded comrade, he destroyed another tank and two self-propelled guns, and routed a number of the enemy infantry. During his career, Smith was promoted to corporal nine times, but subsequently demoted back to private nine times prior to his actions at the River Savio. He later achieved the rank of sergeant.
In the Spring of 2005, John Perry was approached by the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and commissioned to paint a portrait of "Smokey". The resulting painting incorporated portions of his citation, the Victoria Cross medal, and the badge and tartan of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. The painting was reproduced as a limited edition print and the funds raised went into a charitable trust for education bursaries in his name. Although "Smokey" could not sign each print individually, he did sign the original which hangs in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada Museum in Vancouver, BC. This was quite possibly the last time "Smokey" signed anything as he struggled to get it "just right" and passed away soon after.
With his passing, a significant chapter in Canadian military history was closed. I was proud to have been a part of that, as the portrait was used for the official Funeral Service program.